Lois Lowry Grew Up Too Soon
For more than three decades, Lois Lowry has charmed and challenged readers with a wide range of imaginative stories. Though her books are geared towards young adults, she often touches on prickly subjects like death and our collective humanity. Perhaps it’s for this reason that her works resonate with readers of any age. Though most know her for The Giver, Lowry has written dozens of other books, and was once described by the New York Times as “alarmingly prolific.” Her most recent book is The Birthday Ball.
Lowry was kind enough to answer a few questions about her early attempts at writing and some of the obstacles she faced on the way to becoming the successful author she is today.
Opening Lines: Ms. Lowry, thank you for taking the time to discuss your early writing career with us. I’ve read that you spent much of your childhood writing little stories and poems. How would you describe your early writing?
Lowry: Mostly sentimental and romantic. Children whose dogs die, thwarted lovers, flowery language and tear-jerker plots.
Opening Lines: Can you give us an example of one of your early works?
Lowry: Well, there was one very lengthy poem written when I was 12. Dashing horseman, midnight assignations, doomed lovers. (I had been reading Daphne Du Maurier.) The concluding lines were:
Had she but lived,
I would have loved her even more.
But no: she now lies dead
Upon the rocky shore.
Opening Lines: That’s a beautiful excerpt, and it seems much more mature than what most write when they’re 12. Did you know right away that you wanted to be a writer, or were there other hobbies competing for your interest when you were growing up?
Lowry: Writing was always my biggest interest, my first love.
Opening Lines: What do you consider to be your earliest creative success as a writer?
Lowry: I had written a lot for magazines, then a book publisher asked me to do a book for young people. That book, A Summer to Die, was immensely successful. It’s still in print, after 33 years.
Opening Lines: For those of our readers who don’t know, A Summer to Die is loosely based on your terrible experience losing your older sister to cancer when you were just 25. Between the early poem you showed us and this first book of yours, it seems that death was a primary focus in your early writing. Do you feel you were writing to sort through your feelings about death in some way?
Lowry: No, I don’t think I spent time sorting out my feelings, as you say. When I was asked to write my first book, I used an actual experience and wrote about my sister’s death. But it was not something that had obsessed me in any way, or that I needed to come to terms with.
I waited til my children were self-sufficient, and then pursued my own career. It served me well to wait. I had acquired a little wisdom by the time I was older and began writing.
Opening Lines: I’d like to take a moment to return to your childhood writing days again if I may. Did your parents and teachers take your interest in writing seriously, or did they treat it as nonsense?
Lowry: I was fortunate. I had a supportive and caring family, a good education and fine teachers in general, and I was an excellent, attentive student. In high school a teacher wrote on a paper of mine, “Be sure to go on writing. I think there is a chance you can do something with it.”
Opening Lines: You’re very lucky, some of the other writers and artists we’ve written about counted family as one of their most difficult hurdles. When Pablo Neruda showed his father the first poem he ever wrote, all his dad could say was “Who did you plagiarize this from?” What was the biggest obstacle you did face early on in your writing career?
Lowry: An early marriage and four children before I was 26. I had a hard time finding time and solitude. Also, I had not finished college so I went back to school in my thirties, waited til my children were self-sufficient, and then pursued my own career.
Opening Lines: Do you think your late entry into a professional writing career helped you or hurt you?
Lowry: It served me well to wait. I had acquired a little wisdom by the time I was older and began writing.
Opening Lines: Finally, I’m curious how the craft of writing has changed for you over time. Do you find writing more or less fulfilling now than when you were starting out, and do you write for the same reasons you did when you wrote poems as a child?
Lowry: I make my living now by writing so there is the urgency of needing an income, which was not true when I was younger. But my joy in it is unchanged and I am still well-disciplined, as I was in the beginning. It is just as fulfilling to me now as it was years ago, and the process is unchanged, except for the ease that computers have brought to writing.